Writing business

CNN presenter Bernard Shaw dies at 82

Shaw was CNN’s first chief anchor and was part of the network when it launched on June 1, 1980. He retired from CNN after more than 20 years on February 28, 2001.

During his storied career, Shaw reported on some of the biggest stories of that era, including the student uprising in Tiananmen Square in May 1989, the first Gulf War live from Baghdad in 1991, and the 2000 presidential election.

Beloved CNN anchor and colleague Bernard Shaw passed away yesterday at the age of 82. Bernie was a CNN Original and was our Washington anchor when we launched on June 1, 1980,” CNN Chairman and CEO Chris Licht said in a statement Thursday. “He was our main anchor for the next twenty years, from anchoring presidential election coverage to his iconic coverage of the first Gulf War live from Baghdad in 1991. Even after leaving CNN, Bernie remained a close member of our CNN family providing our viewers with the context of historic events as recently as last year.Our condolences to all at CNN go to his wife Linda and children.

Shaw’s funeral services will be closed to family and guests only, with a public memorial service scheduled later, his family said.

The family asked for donations to a scholarship fund in lieu of flowers, according to a statement provided by former CNN CEO Tom Johnson. “The Shaw family requests complete privacy at this time,” the family added in the statement.

In a statement, Johnson said Shaw “was an example of excellence in his life” and would “be remembered as a strong advocate for responsible journalism.”

“As a journalist, he demanded accuracy and fairness in news coverage. He earned the respect of millions of viewers around the world for his integrity and independence. He could be trusted as a journalist and as a presenter,” Johnson said.

“Bernie has been my personal friend and colleague for over 55 years. I will miss him dearly,” he added. “My wife Edwina and I send our deepest condolences to Linda, Bernie’s wife, and her family.”

Carrier start

Shaw was born on May 22, 1940 in Chicago to Edgar and Camilla Shaw.

He spent four years in the Marine Corps, during which he was stationed in Hawaii when he sought out TV news legend Walter Cronkite for advice on becoming a journalist.

Shaw began his career as a radio journalist in Chicago, during which he interviewed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who told him, “One day you’ll get there, just do good,” Shaw recalled.

His first television job was as a political reporter for CBS, helping to cover the Watergate scandal. He would later become ABC’s correspondent in Latin America and bureau chief, where he and his team captured the only aerial footage of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana.
He left ABC to take a job at Ted Turner’s Cable News Network, the world’s first 24-hour television news network – a move he deemed crazy for many of his former colleagues. “I thought it was the final frontier in network television news,” he said.

Turner remembered Shaw in a statement Thursday night after learning of his passing.

“Bernie was a trailblazer, consummate professional and one of the nation’s most respected journalists. As a masterful mentor whose calm, disciplined demeanor provided the perfect tone for historic coverage that would define his more than twenty-year career to CNN – his legacy will live on in the work and minds of so many journalists around the world,” Turner wrote, expressing his condolences to Shaw’s family. “The world has lost a hero for democracy and truth.”

“Baghdad Boys”

Shaw is often credited with raising CNN’s international profile and making CNN the news leader it is today. He was also known to be cool under pressure – which was exemplified by his coverage of the First Gulf War.

He and his fellow reporters, John Holliman and Peter Arnett, made television history by broadcasting the night of the first Baghdad bombing in real time, and would become known as the “Boys of Baghdad”.

“The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated. We see bright flashes exploding across the sky,” Shaw said, reporting from a Baghdad hotel as the bombs rained down.

Arnett recalled how, in the first moments of the bombing: “I ran for the mic, and here comes Bernie – ‘Atlanta, come to Baghdad, come to Baghdad.'”

“He had the mic first, the instinct to broadcast, to be there,” Arnett said. “He didn’t hesitate. He took over the world.”

Shaw said NPR in 2014 that “one of the things I was striving for was being able to control my emotions in the midst of the bursting of hell”.

“The more intense the news I cover, the cooler I want to be. The more I lower my emotions, even the tone of voice because people are counting on you for accurate and unbiased descriptions of what’s going on. And that would be a disservice to consumers of information – be they readers, listeners or viewers – for me to get emotional and get carried away,” he said.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman (L) and Republican presidential nominee Richard Cheney (R) join CNN moderator Bernard Shaw on stage for their debate at Center College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville, Kentucky, October 05, 2000. This is the only vice presidential debate scheduled before the November 07 election.

CNN debuted with Shaw as the Washington anchor at a time when other networks had white men as lead anchors.

After less than a year on the air for CNN, Shaw led the network’s coverage of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. When the other networks reported that White House press secretary James Brady had been killed, Shaw suspended his reporting until he received official confirmation – which never came and the others networks had to retract.

Shaw also gained a reputation for conducting tough interviews. His acerbic questioning showed itself when, in 1988, he became the first African-American journalist to host a presidential debate.

During the second confrontation between then-Vice President George HW Bush and Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, Shaw asked the candidates to talk about the death penalty.

When Dukakis said he was against the death penalty, Shaw asked, “If Kitty Dukakis (Dukakis’ wife) was raped and murdered, would you support an irrevocable death sentence for the killer?”

The question was tricked career killer candidate and, some say, changed the course of the race.
CNN anchor Bernard Shaw talks to his viewers while filming at the network's headquarters in Atlanta Friday, November 10, 2000. Shaw, a 20-year veteran of CNN, said he would be leaving the network at the start of the next year to write books and spend more time with his family.

Shaw sign

Shaw announced in November 2000 that he would be retiring from CNN to spend time with his family and write books.

“My best moment has been just being here, helping to do what draws you, our viewers, to your demand to be informed instantly with knowledgeable context and insight. And to you around the world and to across our great country here in the United States, more than your praise, I have appreciated your criticisms and suggestions. The review may be informative,” he told viewers.

“More difficult than getting into this business is leaving it and leaving CNN, especially after 20 years here. But you know, some roses are so fragrant. And as a gardener, I want to grow them and feel more — when I’m not writing.”

Shaw has received numerous awards for his journalism, including the Edward R. Murrow Award for Lifetime Achievement Award in Broadcasting and was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame in 1999.

“We were a team. It’s the only way the network has made it. It’s the only way the network has made history,” he told CNN staff and alumni during CNN’s 35th anniversary celebration in Atlanta in 2015. “We succeeded because you made excellence a habit. You did this every day…you persevered.”

Shaw said he had always believed “the most important chair wasn’t the anchor chair.”

“The most important chair was the assignment desk chair. The most important chair was the audio chair, the director’s chair, the editor’s chair, the reporter’s chair.”

His advice to employees: “Make a promise that when you come to work as a CNN employee, you will strive to advance excellence.”

Shaw is survived by his wife Linda and their two children, Amar Edgar and Anil Louise.

This story has been updated.